Sunday, February 25, 2018

Tick Take Three

I just blasted through the entire second half of the first season of the new Amazon series The Tick6 half-hour episodes—in a single night.  It really is that good.

While the Tick is ostensibly a superhero (based on a comic created in 1986 by Ben Edlund), it’s really quite different from other superhero properties.  Sure, a lot of superheroes, such as Batman and Spider-Man, have shown up in various movies and televsion shows, with radically different takes on the characters.  But in the Tick’s case, it’s less like, say, Conan, where many different authors and filmmakers have different visions for the iconic character.  It’s more like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where every version is a manifestation of the weird brain of its creator, and yet they’re all different.  And, somehow, all lovable.

The first series based on The Tick (1994 – 1997) was an animated one, and it had a lot to recommend it.  It was insanely surreal (for instance, their version of Aquaman was Sewer Urchin, who lived in the sewers, had a sea urchin helmet, and talked like Rain Man), had wonderfully consistent continuity (e.g. when evil villain Chairface attempts to carve his name into the moon with a giant laser, he is stopped by the Tick and Arthur, but forever after that episode, every time you see the moon on-screen, it has “CHA” on it), and was just plain fun ... if you were into superheroes.  It was true to its roots in that it was primarily a spoof of standard superhero stories, and it was excellent at being that, but admittedly was not much beyond it.

The second series (2001) was live-action, and its primary claim to fame was the casting of Patrick Warburton, who is an actual actor who looks like he was drawn by Ben Edlund and brought to life in a mad scientist’s lab.  You may have seen Warburton on screen now and then (most receently as the titular Lemony Snicket in the Netflix version of A Series of Unfortunate Events), but mostly you will know him from the many thousands of cartoons and videogames he has done voice work for (e.g. Family Guy, The Emperor’s New Groove, Tak and the Power of Juju, Skylanders, etc ad infinitum), because his voice is large and booming and perfect for the Tick.  There will never be any actor better suited to play this character, both visually and aurally.  But, aside from that, the 2001 series did just about everything else wrong.  The comedy was too broad and campy: it almost seemed like the writers thought they were Eric Idle, elbowing me in the side and saying the words “wink wink” to me through the TV screen.  Simple example: the 1994 series’ version of Batman was Die Fledermaus, which is the name of a famous German opera and is German for “the bat.”  In the 2001 series, he’s a Latino gentleman named “Batmanuel.”  And that should tell you everything you need to know about the level of humor right there.

This new series (technically 2016, since that’s when the pilot came out) is quite a different take.  Peter Serafinowicz is still no Patrick Warburton, but he is a remarkably talented fellow, and manages to capture the essential weirdness of the Tick quite nicely.  But perhaps the greatest twist in this version is that, in many ways, the Tick is a secondary character in the show that bears his name.  This, for the first time, is really Arthur’s story.  The mild-mannered accountant who becomes an accidental superhero but refuses to adopt a nom de guerre now has a dark (and terribly interesting) backstory, and a sister, who is neither a superhero, nor a prop to be captured by villains and thus require rescuing.  (I think part of the success of superhero stories in the modern age is that they’re finally discovering that the non-superhero “support” characters are far more important to the stories than they’re usually given credit for.)  Oh, it’s still wonderfully silly and surreal—it couldn’t be The Tick otherwise—but there is real pain and loss here.  Like Bruce Wayne, Arthur has to witness the death of a parent at a very young age at the hands of a criminal, but he responds not by becoming Batman, but rather by entering a world of therapy, nervous breakdowns, and paranoid conspiracy theories.  Which, if you think about it, is a much more likely reaction to that sort of trauma than growing up to put on a costume and fight crime.

Anyway, this new version of The Tick is wonderful, and weird, and well worth watching.  You’ll appreciate it even more if you dig superheroes, as I do, but even outside of that demographic I think it has something to offer.  Check it out.

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